When it comes to essential oils, if and how to use them on babies is one of my most commonly asked questions.
The short answer is yes, you absolutely can use essential oils with babies. But of course there are recommendations around how and when. Let’s dive in.
Everyday we slather body products on ourselves and our children. Our infants are carried in our arms, up close and personal with whatever it is we’ve used on our own bodies. Unless we’ve made a specific choice to avoid artificial fragrance, chances are what we’re using on our bodies will contain such fragrances, along with a raft of other potentially toxic chemicals.
For example, phenoxyethanol is a preservative that’s used in perfumes (and other cosmetics) to make them last longer and is the reason you can spray some on in the morning and still detect it in the afternoon. Among other concerns, phenoxyethanol is linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity, skin irritation and headache. While most of us are probably used to living with phenoxyethanol around, there are serious concerns about its use with newborns and while we might not spray perfume on our infants, we do tend to hold them close for substantial amounts of time. Babies can be exposed through skin to skin contact or inhalation.
Just as we need to be careful about what we’re putting on our bodies, we need to also be careful about what we’re using on our babies, because it’s not just adult products that contain potentially harmful ingredients. And just because a product is made and marketed for babies, doesn’t automatically make it safe. Case in point.
Now some will say that the dose makes the poison and that certainly is the case for most essential oils. Drink a whole bottle of frankincense and you’ll end up in ER. Dilute a drop in your daily moisturiser and your skin (and mood!) will thank you.
Personally, I believe it’s the same for babies. When we introduce new products to a baby, it’s important that it’s done slowly and sensibly. There’s no reason you and your new baby can’t enjoy the manifold benefits of essential oils; you just need to keep a few things in mind.
Topical use on babies
There is so much variation in opinion and experience on this topic. Some say they’ve used oils from birth with no problems, others say you shouldn’t even diffuse around children until 12 months of age. Some say we shouldn’t use oils topically on babies until 3 months… others say 3 years.
How is a parent supposed to know what’s best for their own family?
As with most things related to babies, common sense is required, and if you don’t feel comfortable using oils on your baby: simply don’t. If you are happy to start introducing them from birth, the following guidelines come from the Australian College of Aromatherapy and the Tisserand Institute.
Recommendations for topical use on babies from birth is 1 drop in 20-30 mL of carrier oil. From 3 months, this can be increased to 1 drop in 10 mL. Further dilution ratios can be found below.
A word of caution
Infants should never accidentally ingest essential oils, which is why it’s important to be careful about how you’re using them on yourself, especially if breastfeeding and during the first 6 weeks when your baby is learning to breastfeed.
During this time, avoid all topical essential oil use on your own neck, face and chest area where baby will be snuggling in a lot. For mood, stress and sleep support for yourself, opt for oils in the diffuser, inhaled from the bottle or on aromatherapy jewellery which can be removed before feeding.
If you need oils to help ease after-birth pains, be sure to cover the area well with clothing or compresses so that baby can’t inhale the scent. For more birth and post-partum information and recipes, CLICK HERE.
During those first precious weeks, it’s important not to use any strong scents or products (not just essential oils – think ALL cosmetics/toiletries) that could interfere with your baby developing a scent association with you and learning to breastfeed.
General safety notes for using oils:
- Use only high-quality essential oils, not “fragrance” oils as we really don’t know what’s in them.
- For topical use, follow safe dilution ratios (see below).
- Don’t add to a bath, as baby could splash the oils into their eyes/mouth.
- Avoid the use of oils around sensitive areas such as eyes, ears, nose and genitals.
- For topical application, do a spot test on arm or leg prior to more extensive use. If a reaction is experienced, dilute with a carrier oil. Remember, water won’t help.
- Don’t use oils rich in menthol (such as peppermint) on the upper body of a child under the age of 3.
- If your baby has a medical condition or is undergoing treatment/taking medication, it is recommended that, prior to use of essential oils, you seek the advice of a professional who is experienced in essential oil usage (for example a naturopath or qualified aromatherapist).
- A good rule of thumb for oils is that “less is more”. Because essential oils are so potent, a little goes a long way and you really don’t need much to have an impact, especially when it comes to babies and their sensitive skin.
This probably seems like a lot of dos and don’ts and maybe all a bit too hard. It’s really not! And you definitely can safely introduce oils in various capacities, for the benefit of your baby and you.
If I had to pick 3 tops tips for introducing oils with babies, they’d be:
- Start with 1-2 drops in the diffuser for 30 minutes at a time in a large, well-ventilated area.
- Add 1 drop of a child-safe oil to your baby’s massage oil (following dilution ratios below) and give them a beautiful relaxing massage after a bath. Patch test a small area first.
- If in doubt, or if you’re not comfortable using your regular collection of oils on your baby, start with a specially formulated baby range, such as Young Living’s Seedlings range.
If you’re completely overwhelmed by the number of decisions you’ve had to make since welcoming a baby and essential oil use isn’t something you have headspace for… but you still want the benefits: the Seedlings range is your easy button for skin care.
Literally everything you’ll need to care for your baby’s sensitive skin without harmful ingredients such as alcohol, parabens, phthalates, petrochemicals, animal-derived ingredients, synthetic preservatives, synthetic dyes and artificial fragrances.
The range is scented with Young Living’s Calm essential oil blend featuring Lavender, Coriander, Bergamot, Ylang Ylang and Geranium, all in infant-safe ratios and ready to go.
Once you’re comfortable with using these beautiful products around your baby, you can start to introduce more essential oils for baby massage and diffusing. Some of our favourites:
- Peace & Calming – To help calm and relax; beautiful in the diffuser or diluted with the Seedlings baby oil for a foot massage
- Lavender – To reduce the symptoms of stress and as a nervous system relaxant
- Bergamot – Traditionally used in aromatherapy to induce sleep – love diffusing this one
- Orange – Traditionally used in aromatherapy to induce sleep; to promote refreshing sleep and healthy sleep patterns; to reduce the time to fall asleep; to increase body relaxation; and as a nervous system relaxant
Fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil or apricot kernel oil are all great choices for a carrier oil for infants, however we use the Seedlings baby oil.
Favourite combinations for various needs
If you’re keen to make up essential oil rollers to help your baby, these are some of our favourite combinations:
Teething – Copaiba, Lavender
Tummy – Spearmint, Ginger
Massage – Peace & Calming, Gentle Baby, Calm
Sleep – Lavender, Bergamot
Chest (from 3 months only) – RC, Frankincense – for a beautiful chest rub recipe CLICK HERE – be sure to adjust ratios to your child’s age
For easing congestion prior to 3 months and where medical attention isn’t required, you can try a saline nasal spray (there are some that are specifically formulated for use from birth) or a bulb syringe to help clear the sinuses. You can diffuse oils during this time as well. There are a wide variety of topical creams and rubs available for babies from 3 months and this is when you can start making your own.
How often can oils be applied topically to a baby?
There’s been basically no research around how often oils can be applied topically for a baby so common sense will need to be applied.
If the oil blend you’re using is correctly diluted, baby has no adverse reaction and it seems to be working to help soothe/calm/ease pain, there should be no reason why it can’t be applied multiple times a day.
For example, for a baby who might not be having regular bowel movements, you might like to apply the tummy blend at every nappy change, accompanied by a gentle rub of the abdomen.
For a baby who is teething, you might like to apply the teething blend to jawline and behind the ears before each feed or when bub is fussing or showing other signs of teething discomfort. In addition to the benefits of the oils, a gentle massage of those areas can be helpful in calming your baby.
Please see dilution ratios below for how much oil to use based on your baby’s age.
Benefits of baby massage
Baby massage has numerous benefits. It’s been found to strengthen the immune system, stimulate blood flow, improve sleep, regulate heart rate and breathing, stimulate digestion, reduce crying/upset and help to relieve problems such as constipation.
Combining massage with beneficial essential oils is a beautiful way to bond with your baby.
Hydrosols are another great way to introduce some of the benefits of essential oils to your baby. A hydrosol is extracted during the distillation process, when the essential oil is separated from the hydrosol, which is also known as distillation water or floral water. A hydrosol contains many of the same beneficial constituents as the essential oil but without the potency, so they can be safely and effectively used in addition to or in the place of essential oils.
There are wide variations in the recommendations surrounding dilution ratios. It can vary between essential oil manufacturers and even between qualified aromatherapists. These recommendations come from the Australian College of Aromatherapy.
Babies 0-3 months: maximum of 0.2% dilution which is approximately 1 drop of essential oil in 20-30 mL of carrier oil
Babies 3-24 months: maximum of 0.5% dilution which is approximately 1 drop of essential oil in 10 mL of carrier oil
Children 2-6 years: maximum 2% dilution which is approximately 6 drops of essential oil in 10 mL of carrier oil
Youth 6-15 years: maximum 3% dilution which is approximately 9 drops of essential oil in 10 mL of carrier oil
15 years+: maximum 5% dilution which is approximately 15 drops of essential oil in 10 mL of carrier oil